DUI checkpoints are a common sight across Southern California on Friday and Saturday nights. These roadblocks aim to stop all motorists in a certain area and check for impaired drivers.
If you happen to come across a DUI checkpoint, you should understand that both you and the police officers handling the stop have certain rights and obligations. Before you head out this weekend, learn more about your responsibilities at a DUI checkpoint.
Are Checkpoints Legal?
DUI checkpoints were the subject of a legal battle that went all the way to the United States Supreme Court in 1990. Since the decision in that case, states have been allowed to use sobriety checkpoints as long as the stops meet certain criteria.
The California Supreme Court has also weighed in on the use of DUI checkpoints. In the case of Ingersoll v. Palmer, the Court held that the use of roadblocks or checkpoints was constitutional so long as the stops met eight different conditions. These conditions are:
- Supervising officers must make all operational decisions;
- The criteria for stopping motorists must be neutral;
- The checkpoint must be reasonably located;
- Adequate safety precautions must be taken;
- The checkpoint's time and duration should reflect "good judgment";
- The checkpoint must exhibit sufficient indicia of its official nature;
- Drivers should be detained a minimal amount of time; and
- Roadblocks should be publicly advertised in advance.
If a roadblock or checkpoint does not meet all of these criteria, then the stop may have been illegal and the DUI case could be dismissed.
What Happens at a Sobriety Checkpoint?
During a sobriety checkpoint, police will block traffic or have traffic merge into one or two lanes. An officer will ask the driver to roll down the window and will ask to see his or her driver's license and registration. During this time, the officer may have a brief conversation with the driver to check for signs of impairment, like slurred speech, the smell of alcohol or marijuana, or the presence of alcoholic beverages or drug paraphernalia in the vehicle.
If the officer does not observe any signs of intoxication, the driver will be free to go. If the officer is suspicious, the driver will be asked to pull the car to a different area, where he or she will then undergo standard sobriety tests.
What Are My Rights and Obligations?
A sobriety checkpoint can be a nerve-racking experience, even for drivers who are not intoxicated. Motorists who come across these checkpoints are often unsure of what they can and cannot do, and may ask themselves these questions:
Do I Have To Roll My Window All The Way Down?
In general, there is no California law which requires a driver to roll down the window all the way. However, an officer will usually request that the window be completely down. If the driver does not comply with this request, the officer may threaten to break the window, can order the driver out of the car, or may arrest the driver for failing to comply with an order or obstructing the investigation. If any of the actions the officer takes happen to be illegal, then an experienced criminal defense attorney may be able to argue against any of the charges in court. However, a driver with nothing to hide may be better off simply complying with an officer's request to roll down the window.
Do I Have To Answer Questions?
No. While you may be required to provide your license and/or registration, you are under no obligation to answer any questions or perform any field sobriety tests.
Can They Search My Car?
Not without your permission or probable cause. An officer may ask to search your car, especially if he or she believes that you may have illegal drugs in your possession, but you have the right to decline these searches. However, if an officer has probable cause to believe that you are intoxicated or have illegal drugs or weapons in your possession, the officer may search your car without your permission. For example, if the officer sees illegal drugs or a handgun on the passenger seat, the officer no longer needs your consent. In the same way, many sobriety checkpoints use drug-sniffing dogs, which may alert the police to the presence of illegal drugs.
Will I Lose My Car?
In the past, Californians who were driving without a valid license were subject to having their car impounded if they were caught during a sobriety checkpoint. Since 2012, however, if a driver's only offense is driving without a license, then the police cannot impound the car and will only issue a ticket instead.
Can I Avoid A Checkpoint?
There is no law which requires motorists to go through the checkpoint. If it is possible to avoid the checkpoint, then a driver may do so. Police are usually not allowed to pull over a driver simply for avoiding the roadblock. If, however, the police observe the driver committing another infraction or driving erratically while trying to leave the checkpoint line, then this may be grounds for a police stop.
After an Arrest
If you were stopped for driving under the influence at a sobriety checkpoint or roadblock, an attorney who understands the rules for valid roadblocks can help you fight your case.
Get the representation you need on your side to fight back against criminal charges by calling the Law Offices of Virginia L. Landry. Our attorneys represent people accused of driving under the influence eve
ry day, and will work to help you clear your name.
For more information about DUIs or the DUI process, visit
. To set up a free initial consultation with one of our attorneys, call 866.902.6880 today.